NASA says goodbye to Opportunity
George Kharchilava, Staff Writer
Just this week, the Martian population has dropped by one. After months of trying to contact the long overrun machine, NASA has officially announced that it is time to pull the plug on the Opportunity rover. At Sol 5352 (5352 Martian days), Opportunity was declared dead after numerous failed attempts to communicate after a fatal dust storm covered its solar panels many months prior. Its last message was rather sad, as it told NASA that its batteries were running low and it was getting dark. Originally meant for a ninety day mission, it lasted for fifteen years after landing in 2004. Although it’s sister rover Spirit perished in 2010, Opportunity kept chugging along making more discoveries. As a means of saying goodbye to our robotic friend, the team back on Earth sent the song Billie Holiday's 'I'll Be Seeing You', in a last ditch effort to regain communication with Opportunity. There was no response.
“This is a hard day,” project manager John Callas said, “Even though it’s a machine and we’re saying goodbye, it’s still very hard and very poignant, but we had to do that. We came to that point.”
In the fifteen years of its extended mission, Opportunity has made some amazing discoveries. Just after it’s landing, it found evidence of liquid water that once filled the crater it landed in, called Eagle Crater. Its cameras picked up images of small blueberry shaped stones on the surface, which were features that are typically made in water. As it made its way towards Endeavor Crater, Oppy found gypsum in the rocks, which typically forms when water flows through the underground fractures and leaves Calcium behind (Sourced from NASA). Endeavour Crater seemed to be a hotspot for ancient microbial life, as Opportunity also found clay minerals that formed in neutral-PH water. This means that the water was neither too acidic nor too basic for life as we know it to thrive in. Overall, Opportunity traveled a whopping twenty-eight miles on the Martian surface, gathering more data along the way. Its final resting place is as appropriate as Opportunity’s name, Perseverance Valley. "I cannot think of a more appropriate place for Opportunity to endure on the surface of Mars than one called Perseverance Valley," Michael Watkins, director of JPL, said. "The records, discoveries and sheer tenacity of this intrepid little rover is testament to the ingenuity, dedication, and perseverance of the people who built and guided her."
This was a sad week for space exploration indeed. Many fellow fans have expressed how they felt about Oppy’s demise. One interesting tweet is spelt out in binary, as a tribute to Opportunity's native language. Twitter user dutchess-becky wrote: "Dear Opportunity, 01000111 01101111 01100100 01110011 01110000 01100101 01100101 01100100 00100000 01001111 01110000 01110000 01111001, from A Martian Fan." This reads as “Godspeed Oppy”.
Although this may be the end of Oppy’s mission, it certainly is not the end of Martian exploration. With InSight landing just earlier this month, Curiosity still carrying on atop Oppy and Spirit’s shoulders, and the new Mars 2020 rover having its debut in the next decade, NASA scientists are still working hard at trying to decipher our planetary neighbor’s mysteries. As we advance in space exploration, perhaps one day we can retrieve our beloved robotic friend and say goodbye in person.